Money Rewrite- Kailee Whiting

When we walk into an arcade one of the first things we see, aside from all the flashing neon lights, is the big black box.  Normally a sign hangs above it, signaling an exchange rate, “Four tokens for one dollar,” We slip our flimsy strips of green linen into the big black box and we trust that gold coins with the imprint of a cartoon character on the face will pour out of it.  We slip those gold colored tokens into the attractions with the glowing lights and are treated to a game or ride of some sort.

In the arcade we willingly accept that our dollars cannot be used, and that we must slip them into the big black boxes to get our tokens we trust can be used to play the games.  It’s an exchange of wealth markers; showing how much wealth we have.  Not many of us walk into our bank with dozens of dollar bills to empty into our bank accounts, but for the few of us who do, it is similar to the arcade.  We bring in our dollar bills and trust that the teller with the permanent frown etched upon their face converts these bills into numbers that show up on our bank accounts.  And with the swipe of the card the frowning teller gives us, we trust that we can pay for a coffee down the street.  The teller, just like the arcade’s big black box, takes our wealth markers and changes them into something easier to use.

The people on the island of Yap use ginormous circular limestones with holes drilled through the middle as currency.  The people of the island call these car-sized stones, fei.  These stones grow so large that sometimes they are unable to be moved and the exchange of each stone is done through word of mouth.  The two-ton stone donut standing outside the mayor’s house likely belongs to the butcher two blocks away.

In 1970 France became wary of America’s debt being paid back in dollar bills, knowing the US dollar was backed in gold, they asked for gold instead.  However the gold never reached France, instead they just asked America to set aside a pile of gold and label it “France”.  Just like the people of Yap, the wealth never reached France’s hands.  But through word of mouth, the whole world knew that the gold in the basement of Fort Know with the little sign saying “France” was France’s gold now, not America’s.

Monetary systems rely on the trust of the people using them.  Without the trust of the people the fragile system was crash and burn regardless of economic outlooks, numbers, or the demand for goods.  This has been true since the dawn of time when trade and barter built the first economies.  The worth of a cow was only as much as the buyer’s trust that the cow would live long enough to produce enough milk and meat to cover the expense of the selling their four chickens.  When the buyer trusts that the goods will cover their needs, then the trade is made and the economy is able to thrive.  Nowadays we don’t handle chickens and cows in our exchanges, but we trust in the value of a swipe of a plastic card.  Although it is crazy to believe that a few digits in our bank accounts represents actual currency, but since we trust that it is valuable, we keep our economy from sinking.

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4 Responses to Money Rewrite- Kailee Whiting

  1. davidbdale says:

    Hey, Kailee!
    You may already know I don’t compare your first draft to your latest. I read the latest as new work, as I would my own, hoping to find it flawed but fixable since I last wrote it, so I know I’m getting better.

    P1. That said, this is a surprise! I don’t remember anything about an arcade. What an excellent prop to tangibilize these abstract concepts: cartoon money! It’s priceless (pun). Actually, it is almost literally worthless (worth less) than the dollars we exchange them for, if only because they can only be spent here (and will most likely ultimately convert into a silly oversized novelty comb).

    I have quibbles, of course; it’s my job.

    • If they’re flashing deliberately, they’re probably not fluorescent lights
    • A sign hangs above it and (if it’s flashing) it might signal
    • Signage is a mass noun that refers to all the signs in a place
    • So something signals that money can be exchanged and the sign spells out the rate
    • Probably the rate would be offered as Four tokens for one dollar rather than vice versa
    • I really like flimsy strips of linen, but they’ll be easier to identify as dollar bills if you make them green. Most people think of dollars as paper.
    • If you ever get gold-plated tokens at an arcade, please let me know. These are more likely gold in color.
    • It’s a little hard to picture the cartoon face in gold anyway. I’m seeing color.
    • God I’m annoying.

    P2. Now, Kailee, what was the point of your very fine choice of metaphors? Was it that we exchanged something valuable for something trivial? Was it that we entered into an odd world where funny tokens are used as money? Was it that the value of currencies relative to one another fluctuates daily? Or was it that we already willingly accept that various markers can be exchanged both for goods and services and for one another? If we don’t know yet (and we don’t), you need to tell us at the top of P2.

    OK, it’s an analogy, an exchange of wealth markers. Dollars become tokens, just as money becomes a plastic card? That might work except we rarely actually take money to the bank. Even that usually happens with checks or electronic transfers. The swipe of a card is good, but the connection to other markers is not so clear. (It’s hard work getting these things just right, isn’t it?)

    You make us sound a little stupid to “blindly accept” that money is no longer in our accounts. We do have trust after a while that the bank keeps good records, don’t we? It’s rare to catch them in an error.

    A funny additional analogy at the arcade is that the dollars get exchanged for tokens which then often convert to fistfuls of paper tickets from a spool. Each marker is more inscrutable than the last, until it takes two pounds of tickets to buy that comb. At the arcade this is deliberate. We’re meant to not know how much these markers are worth, We keep converting our real money into these useless tokens of wealth thinking somehow we’ll leave the place with that huge teddy bear.

    Is that why our money is less and less tangible, Kailee? Does our economy function better (we spend more and save less) when we don’t handle currency and stop spending when we run out? Just asking. There’s a good analogy in it for you.

    P3. You’re a technically good and smooth writer, Kailee. I can follow you. You say smart stuff. I do want to encourage you never to be satisfied, but I also want to encourage you that you are doing well and likely are already improving.

    The fei do not “grow so large.” But then you follow up that oddness with something quite beautiful: the exchange of each stone is done through word of mouth.

    Eliminate the though/then construction when you can (just like unnecessary if/thens). “The two-ton stone donut standing outside the mayor’s house likely belongs to the butcher two blocks away.”

    Give us a year (or decade) on the France anecdote so we know you know the dollar is no longer backed by gold. Your “Likewise” sentence promises a parallel situation (of course) but doesn’t immediately deliver one. The one-sentence delay is confusing. Bear with me here.

    • The stone outside the mayor’s house belongs to the butcher
    • The Yap know whose it is by word of mouth
    • Likewise, when the French requested gold instead of dollars in repayment of a US debt
    • They were content to have the US “set aside” a stock of gold bars in Fort Knox marked “for France”
    • Because they and the world knew a US promise was as good as money

    I think you can get the job done in far fewer sentences (as you proved above you could illustrate the fei exchange in just a sentence).

    P4. Monetary systems rely on trust. Kailee, this is your thesis. The Yap trust that the crosstown fei are theirs. The French trusted the transatlantic gold was theirs. We trust that our employer will “send” our “paychecks” to the right account to replenish our debit cards. We willingly swap good money for cartoon tokens, then paper tickets, then crap toys because we trust the nature of the transactions. If that’s the point of your introductory anecdote, be sure you begin to send that clear message to us in P1.

    Faith that the cow will survive to convert to chickens is a new level of trust nobody else has mentioned. Now that you say it, though, I wonder if credit was ever extended to a cattle farmer. Maybe while the cow was growing its owner could get chicken in advance? Obviously, every time Honda finances a car for a buyer, they’re handing over the chicken to someone whose cattle aren’t ready for slaughter. If the buyer loses his job, it’s like the cattle dying, isn’t it? Food for thought.

    This is too many notes already, but if you ever want to conference about this, Kailee, I have dozens more little tips about your individual sentences to share.

    Well, of course I don’t mind that this is a complete rewrite. I’m delighted you hated your first draft (even if it was good) and wanted to try again. Truly delighted.

  2. davidbdale says:

    You’ve left a letter-grade worth of improvement on the table here, Kailee. If you decide to revise it again, let me know you need a regrade.

  3. kaileewhiting says:

    I kept meaning to post an update, but never found the time to get around to it.
    I definitely believe my first two paragraphs are much better. But my problem is the two paragraphs where I discuss France and the people of Yap. I think my France explaination is much stronger, and shorter. However I can’t figure out how to link the two together, so I left them separate from one another.

    I’m not sure if I really need more feedback, but would definitely love a regrade of this! Thank you so much for your feedback, it helped a lot.

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